Tag Archives: art criticism

Homely Art – Amos Sewell

Still being under the weather and filled with sinus head-pain, I decided to go back to a subject I love so much that the post will simply write itself.  You know I love Norman Rockwell and his art, and I fervently believe that kind of mass media oil-painting does not put him in a lesser category than Rembrandt or Michelangelo or Raphael or any other painter with a ninja turtle namesake.   He is a genius, and though he is not a realist in so many ways, his work is more truthful than practically any other kind of painting.  If you are taken by surprise and didn’t know I had this passionate obsession, maybe you should go back and look at this post;   Norman Rockwell

Now that I got that out of my system, here is another Saturday Evening Post artist that is often confused with Rockwell.  His name is Amos Sewell.

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Sewell was an amateur tennis player who was talented enough to win tournaments.  He was an employee of Wells Fargo who was headed towards anything but an art career until he decided to make a leap of faith in 1930.  He started as an illustrator for Street and Smith pulp fiction, and soon caught the notice of the big-time magazine markets for his art.  He published art for Saturday Evening Post,   Country Gentlemen Magazine, and Women’s Day.

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Like Rockwell, he was able to find the funny in everyday scenes, like the dance party to the right.  That young man at center stage is trying so hard not to step on the feet of the red-headed girl, that you want to laugh, but can’t because it’s obvious how embarrassed he would be, and the charm of the picture leads you to shun the thought of interrupting.  The scene is so real the boy would hear you laughing as you looked at the Post cover.

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More expert on this kind of art than I am is the Facebook site that I first got turned on to Sewell by.  Children in Art History

They can also be found on WordPress.  Children in Art History (WordPress)

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There is no doubt that Amos Sewell belongs in the same pantheon of artists as Norman Rockwell, Thomas Kinkade, or Paul Detlafsen.  They are all artists who achieve in their work exactly what I have always striven for.  I want to be able to hold the mirror up to our world the way they did.  I want to capture both the fantasy and the reality in the subject of everyday family life.  I also want to share this work with you because I cannot stand the idea that such artistic ambrosia could one day be forgotten in archives where no one ever looks at it and feels the message in their heart.

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Comic Strips Can Make Me Cry

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I have been a cartoon nut for a long, long time.  I think it goes back to a time before I really have memories.  I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know who Cat in the Hat was, or that Pogo was a possum and Albert was an alligator, or that Daisy Mae constantly had to chase Lil’ Abner afore they could git hitched.  And I have always known that cartoons and comic strip characters weren’t real.  But there were a few times in life when comic strips made me cry.  Am I really that much of pansy that I wilt in the face of cartoon tragedy?  Yes.  Whole-heartedly!

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Take for instance Tom Batiuk’s long-running spoof of teenagers and life in high school, Funky Winkerbean.  One of the first things that makes this comic special is that the characters have lives that expand into the deepening depths behind the daily gag and four-panel strip.  They grow and age.  Les Moore (the geeky kid with the dark hair and nerd glasses, the character I most identified with) grew up to become an English teacher in the same high school where he had to deal with the issue of teen pregnancy.  Lisa, the girl he liked, was pregnant.  Les helped her go through the pregnancy and give the child up for adoption, and then eventually married Lisa.  Les would go on to raise his daughter with Lisa and then have to live with the fact that the child Lisa gave away wanted to find his real mother.

The strip added layer after layer to the over-all story, making me feel like I knew these people.  Funky turned his after-school  job at Montoni’s Pizza into a partnership and a career as a restaurateur.  Les would. like me, become a teacher and a writer.  Crazy would go on to be a postman and… well, Crazy.  And then the story added more layers by not always being funny.  I cried when Wally Winkerbean stepped on the mine in Afghanistan and I thought he was dead.  I cried again when Wally’s wife, Becky, moved on and married again.   And then, there was what happened with Lisa…

The artist himself had a bout with cancer.  He. like me, was turned into a cancer survivor.  It chills the bones and changes you on the inside to have a doctor tell you that you have cancer and it is malignant.  And it became a part of the story.  Lisa became first a breast cancer survivor, and then… sadly… a victim.  She died of cancer.  Her husband, Les, took up the cause and started the Lisa’s Legacy Walk for the Cure which he pursued religiously every October.  And Tom Batiuk made it real.  You can donate real money to the real Lisa’s Legacy Fund.  It is a cancer fund and fund-raising event that honors the struggle and death of a fictional character.  It makes me cry again at this moment.  They are real people to me, too, Tom.

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…And it doesn’t end with Funky Winkerbean.  Today’s re-blog of Stories From Around the World’s post does an absolutely wonderful job of encapsulating the essence of Lynn Johnston’s family comedy strip For Better or for Worse.  This engaging story of a family who also grows up, changes, and shifts from one generation to the next also tore my heart out with the un-funny episode where the dog, Farley, saves youngest daughter April from drowning and then expires from the effort, dying a hero’s death.  Another memory that causes me tears even today.

I do not regret reading comic strips.  My life is richer for all the second-hand and third-hand experiences they have given me.  Not just Popeye and Pogo and Beetle Baily making me laugh, but comic strips that make me weep as well.

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Allegro Non Troppo

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Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain from Disney’s Fantasia

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The old faun

In musical terms, Allegro Non Troppo means fast tempo, but not too fast.  So, I recently discovered that Allegro Non Troppo is one of many rare and obscure old movies which I am passionate about that can be found in its entirety on YouTube.  I will include the YouTube link at the end of this post, and I sincerely recommend that if you have never seen this movie, you watch the whole thing at least once.  No matter how many cringes or winces or blushes it causes, this is a movie of many bizarre parts that you really need to take in as a whole.  It ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime, the atrociously ugly to the lyrically beautiful, from the brilliant classical score being played by a mistreated band of old ladies with orchestral instruments to a gorilla running amok,   from Debussy to Ravel, from an artist released from his cage to single-handedly draw the animation, to a satire rich with baudy humor making fun of no less a work of animation than Prisney’s… I mean Disney’s Fantasia.  The dark elements are there.  The light-hearted, lilting comedy is there.  The fairy tale delicacy and technicolor dreaming is all there.

And why should this be important to me?  Especially now that I am retired from a long and fruitful teaching career?  Well, I have history with this movie.  I saw it first in college.  I was an English major, but I took every film as literature class I could fit into my silly schedule.  As an undergrad, I was determined to be a cartoonist for a career.  I took classes seriously and aced most of them, but I was at college to intellectually play around.  I didn’t take the prescribed courses to be an English teacher.  That had to wait for the more responsible me to come along in grad school for that.  I saw both Fantasia and Allegro Non Troppo during one of the play-time years.  Much as the old satyr in Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, I was enamored with sensory experience.  I took my first girlfriend to see Disney’s Fantasia, and she later turned down the opportunity to see Allegro Non Troppo with me.   Good sense on her part, but the beginning of the end of our relationship.155154089_640  Just as Fantasia has the part in it where Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring describes evolution from the beginning of the Earth to the end of the dinosaurs, Allegro Non Troppo uses Ravel’s Bolero to describe the evolution of life on a weird planet from germs in a discarded Coke bottle to the inevitable coming of the malevolent monkey who is ultimately us.  And, of course, the satire would not be complete without some off-set for Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Allegro-Non-Troppo As near as I can figure it out, the apprentice, played by Mickey Mouse, becomes the snake from the Garden of Eden in Allegro Non Troppo.  When the snake is unable to get Adam and Eve to eat the apple, he makes the mistake of eating the apple himself.  He learns the hard way that, no matter how clever, even diabolically clever, you think you are, you are not really in control of anything in life.  Every would-be wizard in the world has to understand that he is powerless without hard experience.  And what a boring world full of naked people this would be if there were never any apprentices in it foolish enough to actually become wizards. 200_s  Of coufantasia_august2012_blogpromorse, I haven’t really talked about the most heart-twisting part of Allegro Non Troppo… the sad cat wandering the ruins of his former home, or the most laugh-aloud part with the super-tidy little lady-bee trying to eat a blossom, but being interrupted by a couple of picnickers.

allegronontroppo2 03  But the thing is, this movie is a timely subject for me.  Not only did I, just yesterday, rediscover it, but it still has the same meaning for me now as it did when I first saw it.  Then I was an aspiring young artist who loved this movie because it approached ideas non-consecutively, just as I approached my learning years… rambling here and there, finding first a bitter-sweet something, and then a sad beauty behind everything in life.  And it is where I am again now, in a poor-health enforced retirement… divorced from teacher’s schedules and time itself.  Able to do as I please, and aspiring once again to commit great acts of art.

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Ralph Bakshi

I was a Disney kid.  I grew up with Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio,  and Jungle Book.  But then I grew up and went to college and all my Disney dreams were dashed.  The world is not Disneyland.  The world holds many wicked wonders, some beautiful, some dangerous, some downright deadly.  In 1977 I saw a movie that changed my world   That movie was Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards.  I saw it in the college-town theater in Ames, Iowa.  I scraped up enough money to see it three times in the week that it played there.  It was the Fall Semester after having read the entire Lord of The Rings Trilogy a year ago that summer.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then here it is from YouTube.  You should take a look, if not watch it all;

Ralph Bakshi is the chief artist/animator behind some of the raunchiest, weirdest, and wildest cartoons of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.   You may have seen some of his work.

1425578_374356942699292_1586842201_n  Fritz the Cat was groundbreaking in that it was actually an X-rated cartoon, something that a Disney kid could never have imagined until he had his goofy little cartoon brain got corrupted by the colorful collage of experience you get as a farm-boy in college.  I never actually saw such a profane perversion of what a cartoon was supposed to be until they had a special free showing at the student union.  I went with a couple of guys from the dorm house and was flabberghasted that we could watch such a thing and not be in jail the following day.  I would’ve gone back a second time, but free student union movies only occurred one time a month and were never replayed again, ever.1397150_365752950226358_1015440499_o

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And then came The Lord of the Rings.  Bakshi was the first one to create a film version of the novels they said could never be filmed.  It appeared in the theaters in college town and I was forced to see it five times in the two weeks it stayed in the theater.  I never loved anything so much in animation before.  It was better even than Pinocchio.  I would in later years be devastated by the fact that the movie only covered one and a half of the three books.  The rest of the story never got made.

After college there were other black-magical Bakshi films.  I would later get to see Fire and Ice, American Pop, and Cool World.  Ralph Bakshi, and one of his lead cartoonists, Mike Ploog,  would rock my world until he finally stopped making animated films.  I have actually seen all of his films now, and have copies of most of them.

1381458_364600730341580_717903061_n This is a scene from the history of music cartoon, American Pop.

Here’s another scene from that movie.1376511_362962520505401_512024308_nHe called it a “moving painting in honor of American music.”

1426702_371578419643811_1630501743_nCool World was a combination of live action and cartoons that was loosely modeled on Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  It was a foofy story that made a half-decent excuse for wonderful artwork.
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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Fire and Ice was Dungeons and Dragons and Boris Vellejo brought to life.

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Let me end with a couple of connections to Ralph and Mike that you should check out.  Their artistry has a profound effect.

http://www.facebook.com/RalphBakshi    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Mike-Ploog/103982309772668

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Krazy Kat

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I told you before about a cartoonist from ancient ‘Toon Times named Fontaine Fox.  He was a master, and I acknowledge him as one of my greatest inspirations.  But he was not the original master mentor for my teenage ‘Toon Training.  That honor goes to the inestimable George Herriman.  He was the Krazy Kartoonist who died more than a decade before I was born, yet, through his Kreation, Krazy Kat, did more to warp my artistic bent into Krazy Kartooniana Mania than anybody else.  I discovered him first.  I found him through Komic books and the Kard Katalog at the local library.  I own a copy of the book I pictured first in this post.  It is the first Kartoon book I ever bought.  I couldn’t post a picture of my actual book here because I have read it so often in the past forty years that the Kover has Kome off.  It is now more of folder of loose pages than a book.

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Krazy Kat is a newspaper Komic strip that ran all around the world from 1913 to 1944.  Comics Journal would rate Krazy Kat as the greatest work of Komic art of the 20th Century.  Art critics hailed it as serious art, and it fits snugly into the surrealist movement of Salvador Dali and others.  It has been cited as a major influence on the work of other artists such as Will Eisner, Charles M. Schulz, Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Bill Watterson, and Chris Ware.

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The centerpiece of the strip is a love triangle.  Krazy Kat the Kharacter is a feline who may be female or may be male but is definitely deeply in love with Ignatz Mouse.  The Krazed rodent hopped up on seriously stinky fromage (cheese to us non-French speakers), is Konstantly throwing bricks at Krazy’s head… obviously out of serious disdain, however, Krazy sees it as a confession of love.  Offisa Pup, the police watchdog, wants to jail the malevolent mouse for battery and protect the precious Kat, whom he obviously loves with an unrequited love.  Explanations are superfluous in the weird world of Krazy Kat.  How can I explain the charm, the humor, the good-natured violence of a strip such as this?  There are echoes of it in Tom and Jerry animated cartoons, but nothing like it really exists anywhere else.  Krazy has her own unique language, a language that you naturally learn to interpret as you read the strip.  Ignatz exhibits psychotic frustrations that he takes out on the world around him in our name, that we might experience hubris at his expense.  And what’s with that mysterious sack of “Tiger Tea” that Krazy carries about and keeps a Klosely guarded “sekrit”?

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I honestly hope you will give Krazy Kat a thorough “look-see”.  Because if you like Kartoons at all… and it doesn’t have to be the Krazy Kooky love of a seriously overdosed addict like me… you will fall desperately in love with this one.   It is a world of its own, a superbly superfluous abstract anachronism.  It is a surrealist’s dream of fun with puns and tons of buns… or something like that.  Simply put… read it and don’t like it… I dare you!

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Loish

I want to talk about a living artist for a change.  I know that the artists I have talked about on this goofy blog-that-doesn’t-seem-to-know-what-it-is-really-for, Norman Rockwell, William Bouguereau, Paul Detlafsen, Thomas Kinkade, Fontaine Fox, and Maxfield Parrish, are all quite dead.  But conversely that is a good thing because it means their art has stood the test of time.  But today I want to plug a working artist I find absolutely fascinating.  This is the first artist I ever seized upon as an example of a true master whose chosen medium is primarily digital art.

This is Loish.  You can find her at http://loish.net/ or http://http://loish.deviantart.com/.  Her name is Lois Van Baarle and she is a Dutch citizen by birth.  She has worked as both an animator and a commercial artist/illustrator.  She has lived all over the world in countries like France, Belgium, Germany, and the United States, but currently resides back in her home country, the Netherlands.c18296b715d6f4bb5326967c0aee012c-d7a6fao   What I find so absolutely engaging about her work is the way she can portray ordinary folk, particularly young people and female people, in luminous digital colors (almost as if she is painting with light… and in fact that is actually what she IS doing), and in such a big-eyed, cartooney way (the way you would expect someone who does animation to do it.)  Take a look at all these wondrous creations that I have borrowed from her websites or her Facebook page.

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Isn’t that some of the loveliest artwork you’ve ever seen?  I know some may not like it, preferring what is more realistic, gritty, hard-edged, or more cutting edge… but I love foofy art of all sorts… goofy foofy girly art… and this is among the best I have ever seen.

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Toonerville, a Place I Once Lived In

There is a place so like the place where my heart and mind were born that I feel as if I have always lived there.  That place is a cartoon panel that ran in newspapers throughout the country from 1913 to 1955 (a year before I was born in Mason City, Iowa).  It was called Toonerville Folks and was centered around the famous Toonerville Trolley.

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Fontaine Fox was born near Louisville Kentucky in 1884.  Louisville, of course is one of the two cities that claims to be the inspiration for Toonerville.  Apparently the old Brook Street Line Trolley in Louisville was always run-down, operating on balls of twine and bailing wire for repair parts.  The people of Pelham, New York, however, point to a trolley ride Fox took in 1909 on Pelham’s rickety little trolley car with a highly enterprising and gossip-dealing old reprobate for a conductor.  No matter which it was, Fox’s cartoon mastery took over and created Toonerville, where you find the famous trolley that “meets all trains”.

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I didn’t learn of the comic strip’s existence until I was in college, but once I found it (yes, I am the type of idiot who researches old comics in university libraries), I couldn’t get enough of it.  Characters like the Conductor, the Powerful (physically) Katrinka, and the terrible-tempered Mr. Bang can charm the neck hair off of any Midwestern farm-town boy who is too stupid to regret being born in the boring old rural Midwest.

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I fancied myself to be just like the infamous Mickey (himself) McGuire.  After all, we have the same first name… and I always lick any bully or boob who wants to put up a fight (at least in my daydreams).

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So, this is my tribute to the cartoonist who probably did more to warp my personality and make me funny (well, at least easy to laugh at! ) than any other influence.  All of the cartoons in this post can be credited to Fontaine Fox.  And all the people in them can be blamed on Toonerville, the town I used to live in, though I never really knew it until far too late.

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Filed under art my Grandpa loved, artists I admire, cartoons, Toonerville